Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
A powerfully talented cast of Asian American actors brings a uniquely American perspective to this story of two brothers dancing on the line between primitive impulses and conventional success. The drama's darkly comedic elements are interwoven with moments of tension and introspection, creating a complex and thought-provoking narrative. Teo makes that narrative feel modern, even urgent, while also creating a surreal space that dares the audience to guess exactly what kind of truth we are seeing play out on stage.
The two brothers at the heart of Shepard's story are Austin (Sanjit De Silva) and Lee (Ron Domingo), a dedicated screenwriter and his volatile and criminal older brother. Their paths cross for the first time in years at their mother's temporarily empty Southern California home. Austin just wants to work on his screenplay, while persistently distracting Lee is planning to see what he can steal from the neighbors. As the story unfolds, their roles start to blur and switch. Lee proposes his own screenplay idea to a Hollywood producer (Greg Watanabe), which surprises Austin and threatens his own prospects. Meanwhile, Austin is drawn into Lee's world of theft and petty crime, and the two brothers start to adopt each other's characteristics. The conflict between the brothers escalates as they confront their contrasting identities and aspirations.
Scenic designer You-Shin Chen and lighting designer Wen-Ling Liao create a maliciously uncanny space that reflects all the strangeness and familiarity of Shepard's tale. The impeccably detailed kitchen feels authentically ensconced in the 1980s, but the set slips and curves out at the edges. The light shifts from comfortably homey to stark or bright in an instant. Jeanette Yew's clever projection design plays with the passage of time and adds to the surreal sense of the set design. Sound designer Hao Bai pulls everything together with remarkable clarity.
Under Teo's masterful direction, De Silva and Domingo make the most of Shepard's powerful script and the creative team's excellent stagecraft. De Silva is a little neurotic and entirely sympathetic as straight-edged Austin. When things start to slip sideways, his relatability shifts from charming to disturbing. Domingo feels completely at home in the role of Lee, annoying as any sibling and wonderfully devious to boot. The chemistry between De Silva and Domingo crackles and sparks with frustration, envy and rage.
Whether you are a seasoned acolyte or are new to the work of Sam Shepard it is well worth the trip to Malvern to see this impactful production. Both the cast and crew bring out something special in this laugh-out-loud funny yet deeply thought-provoking True West.
True West runs through August 27, 2023, at the People's Light Theater, Leonard C. Haas Stage, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern PA. For tickets and information, please visit peopleslight.org or call the box office at 610-644-3500.